Every day of your life, you rely on safe, clean water. When you brush your teeth, bathe, put ice in a glass or just drink water straight from the tap, you know the water will be safe and clean. For that, you can thank the water utilities, regulators and legislators who worked together to conceive and implement the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
The fact that safe, clean water is expected, and maybe even taken for granted, in the United States, is largely because of the reliable access to clean water during our lifetime. That reliability dates back to 1908, when Dr. John L. Leal added chlorine to the water supplying Jersey City, New Jersey. For the first time in the U.S., a community was provided water free of bacteria. Word of that benefit then began to spread.
In 1914, the federal government began regulating drinking water. These early standards put the nation on the path that eventually led to the conception and implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Public and private utilities have played an important role in the shared responsibility of federal and state water quality standards from the beginning. Over the years, our members have worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other organizations to ensure that safe drinking water remains a priority in this country.
The EPA, which is responsible for enforcement of the SDWA, notes in its published materials that, "Drinking water that is not properly treated or disinfected, or which travels through an improperly maintained distribution system, may also pose a health risk."
That statement is important because it highlights both treatment and the distribution system.
Treatment encompasses disinfecting water that can contain anything from pesticides to harmful viruses and more that could have disastrous consequences if properly maintained water filtration plants were not in place. This is a critical part of fulfilling the promise of the SDWA.
The distribution system encompasses 2.8 million miles of water and wastewater pipes that lead to and from our homes, workplaces and schools. Updating and maintaining our nation's aging water infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges we face in the future. The cost of replacing and expanding our drinking water infrastructure is estimated at $1 trillion over the next 25 years. That number could grow if we delay action.
That's why members of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) regularly invest in the communities they serve by updating outdated treatment facilities and infrastructure--making sure the water from your tap continues to be healthy and safe, meeting and exceeding the standards.
America's public and private water utilities have historically recognized what needs to be done to improve America's drinking water and they have met the challenge through new technology, efficiency and treatment methods. As we look to the future, we need to reinvigorate this spirit of collaboration between the public and private sector so that, as new challenges emerge, we can improve and adapt in the future to meet greater needs and demands.
Let's raise a glass of clean, safe drinking water to the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act - and to the promising future of one of our most precious resources.